While all of these benefits are more easily realized in a fully-connected enterprise, they also can be achieved in an iterative process as companies become increasingly connected. Regardless of the approach a company takes, some key steps are crucial to making the most of safety in connected, information-enabled operations:

1. Active EHS representation – Connected operations span people, processes and technology. Bringing people together from across an organization is critical when deploying a connected enterprise or simply expanding connectivity in a smaller manner. A cross-functional team should be formed to include not only operations and IT stakeholders but also environmental health and safety professionals.

2. Assess the current state – A company's roadmap to improving safety in a connected operation begins with understanding where it's at today. Key questions to ask during an assessment include:

  • Are we using contemporary, integrated safety systems?
  • Is safety data manually collected or is it automated in a data- collection system?
  • What safety data already is available? How is it reported?
  • Does equipment or machinery have central network connectivity?
  • Could safety data be collected using an existing data-collection platform?

3. Determine meaningful data and information – This is where safety, operations and other team members specify the safety-system data they need to support their goals. Important considerations at this stage include identifying:

  • What data must be captured
  • Where and how it will be collected
  • How it will be contextualized and delivered as actionable information
  • Who will receive the information
  • What actions will result from the information

4. Implement or upgrade safety systems – Safety system data already is available in an integrated safety controller. Implementing changes merely involves specifying the right data coming out of the controller by creating new tags for each access point. This data then can be contextualized within a plant's existing EMI software and delivered to safety and operations personnel in the form of relevant, actionable information via EMI dashboards.

5. Analyze and optimize – Getting information to workers is important, but so is getting workers to act on the information.

Incorporating safety system information into daily operations is critical. Analytics should be included in daily production meetings, and standard procedures should be developed for collecting, analyzing and interpreting data.

With these elements in place, safety professionals can monitor and refine all aspects of safety in a connected enterprise as part of a continuous-improvement program. Safety professionals also can use the safety system data to better measure and meet their corporate safety goals.

The ability to access, analyze and act on safety system data in a connected enterprise represents a turning point for safety compliance and productivity. It creates opportunities to better understand risks and safety system usage, enhance worker and environmental safety, reduce safety-related downtime and even reimagine operations as innately safer.

It's important to remember that a connected enterprise is an ongoing journey. The technologies and opportunities within it will continue to evolve. Companies should be mindful of this and constantly seek opportunities to improve their future state.

Steve Ludwig is program manager, safety for Rockwell Automation. He is a frequent writer and speaker relating to safety and machinery automation. You can reach him at swludwig@ra.rockwell.com.